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Many parents don't recognize the signs their child is drowning -- even when they're right there. "There is very little splashing, no waving and no yelling or calls for help of any kind," according to the recent and terrifying post "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning" on Slate.
The piece says that the body's "Instinctive Drowning Response" means that victims often aren't able to call out for help (they're trying to breathe) and frequently appear upright in the water since they aren't kicking and their arms are pressing down on the water to try to stay above it.
These subtle and quiet signs no doubt contribute to the fact that drowning is the second leading cause of death for American kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). And every day, two kids under the age of 14 die as a result of drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Swimming lessons may keep your kids safer around the water, but even good swimmers are at risk of drowning. It's up to you -- the parent -- to provide adequate supervision and to enforce water safety requirements. Here's how you can help decrease your child's risk of drowning, according to the AAP:
Never leave small children alone or in the care of another child while near water. Preschoolers, toddlers and infants need constant, focused supervision around water -- even around wading pools, rain barrels and water buckets.
Use "touch supervision" in and around open bodies of water. An adult should be within arms-length of any infant, toddler or weak swimmer who is in or around water. Sitting on the side of the pool with your eyes trained on your child is not good enough; kids can lose their balance and topple headfirst into the water in an instant, and you'll lose precious seconds if you're not in arms-reach. Adults who supervise kids near water should know infant and child CPR.
Fence in all pools, even inflatable ones. Most communities have ordinances that require fencing around in-ground or traditional above-ground pools, but many popular inflatable pools aren't covered under these regulations. Fence them in anyway (or empty them when they're not in use). The AAP recommends a 4-sided, 4-foot tall fence with less than 4-inches of clearance between the ground and fence. The fence should not be easy to climb. (Most kids can easily scale a chain-link fence.)
Keep kids away from pool drains, filters and pipes. Since 2007, public pools and spas have been required to use special drain covers to prevent drowning from entrapment. These covers are designed to keep hair and body parts from becoming stuck in drains. But the law only covers public pools: Teach kids to steer clear of drains, filters and pipes.
Enroll your kids in swim lessons. Research shows that learning to swim can decrease the likelihood of drowning, even for kids as young as one. But swim lessons are no substitute for adult supervision. All young children, even strong swimmers, should be under constant supervision when in or near the water.
All kids should wear an approved personal flotation device (PFD) when riding in boats. When in a boat, kids should wear an approved lifejacket. (Having lifejackets in the bottom of the boat won't keep your kid afloat if he falls in!). It's also a good idea to have small children wear lifejackets when fishing or spending time at the edge of a lake, river or ocean.